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DID YOU READ

Opening This Week

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03242008_alexandra.jpgBy Neil Pedley

Apparently, less is more this week, as “Flawless” and “Priceless” both head to the big screen and work from minimalist Alexander Sokurov balances out over-the-top offerings like “Superhero Movie” and “21.”

“Alexandra”
Russian avant-garde director Alexander Sokurov’s melancholic drama landed itself a Palme D’Or nomination last year at Cannes. Set in a nameless, war-torn place that bares more than a passing resemblance to Chechnya, “Alexandra” has for its star veteran opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya, who plays an elderly woman who sets off to visit her grandson, a soldier stationed at the edge of a wasteland. In Russian with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Backseat”
Labeled by some a “Sideways” for twenty-somethings, “Backseat” features Rob Bogue and Josh Alexander, who also wrote the film’s script, as a pair of directionless friends who take to the open road in a bid to outrun the incoming juggernaut of adult responsibility and maybe meet Donald Sutherland. “Backseat”‘s journey to distribution has taken nearly as many turns, considering the film spent two years kicking around the festival circuit. One of its pit stops was at the Austin Film Festival, where it picked up an audience award.
Opens in limited release.

“The Cool School”
Grammy nominated filmmaker Morgan Neville charts the struggle of late ’40’s Los Angeles to transform itself from a poor man’s New York into a city with a thriving and legitimate art scene lead by the likes of Ed Ruscha and Ed Kienholz. Neville lends an artist’s eye to the archival footage, kinetic music and talking heads as he explores the creation of a singularly American art scene that was the first to showcase the likes of Andy Warhol and his soup cans at the innovative Ferus Gallery. Jeff Bridges narrates.
Opens in New York.

“Chapter 27”
After premiering at last year’s Sundance festival, J. P. Schaefer’s debut film about John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman began a run of misfortune that makes one wonder how it managed to survive. Aside from the unwanted publicity of co-star Lindsay Lohan’s public meltdown and a competing project, “The Killing of John Lennon,” negative reactions to the very idea of a film about Chapman led Lennon fans to establish a boycott website that claimed the film was glorifying a killer. On top of this, reviews out of Sundance weren’t kind. That Peach Arch Entertainment is giving the film a limited run must be of some cold comfort, but “Chapter 27” star Jared Leto has already had his just desserts for the project — the star reportedly bulked up 62 pounds on pints of microwaved ice cream to play the inimitably creepy Chapman.
Opens in limited release.

“Flawless”
Following years of more serious fare like “Dancing at the Blue Iguana” and “The Merchant of Venice,” Michael Radford returns to the lighter touch he brought to the Oscar-nominated “Il Postino” with this playful period heist drama. Demi Moore brings her best scowl to the part of Laura Quinn, a disgruntled banking executive who is approached by Michael Caine’s soon-to-retire janitor to trade her glass ceiling in for something a little more valuable. Though her character may protest, Moore herself could be easily swayed — after all, she played Caine’s teenage daughter in a pre-Brat Pack role in the underrated 1984 comedy “Blame it on Rio.”
Opens in limited release

“Hats Off”
A remarkable account of sheer triumph of will, “Hats Off” chronicles 10 years in the life of the bubbly and vivacious Mimi Wendell, a 93-year-old working actress who regularly puts in 14-hour days in New York. Documentary filmmaker Jyll Johnstone does her best to keep pace with the sprightly Mimi as she darts from ballet class to film shoots, to dance class, to auditions, seemingly carried along by nothing more than her can-do attitude, her free spirit and her love of life.
Opens in New York.

“My Brother is an Only Child”
From the co-writers of “The Best of Youth” comes another sprawling Italian epic of brothers divided by political ideals but united by the love of the same woman. Set at the time of the so-called historical compromise, when the extreme ends of the political spectrum tried unsuccessfully to form a working government, the film stars Riccardo Scarmaccio and Elio Germano as the conflicted brothers struggling to reconcile with one another against the backdrop of a troubled country struggling to reconcile with itself and forge a new national identity. Palme D’Or nominee Daniele Luchetti (for 1991’s “The Yes Man”) directs. In Italian with subtitles.
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on April 4th.

“Priceless”
Writer/director Pierre Salvadori injects a notable dose of French farce into his elegant 2006 re-imagining of the Audrey Hepburn classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” choosing the Hepburn-esque Audrey Tatou to play a flighty socialite who preys upon the wealthy playboys that populate the fashionable French Riviera. “The Valet”‘s Gad Elmaleh is the shy, befuddled waiter who tries to get closer to her heart by beating her at her own game. Just, please, don’t import a version of Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi. In French with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

“Run, Fat Boy, Run”
Originally set for release last November, this directorial effort from David Schwimmer was postponed — rarely a good sign. In the comedy, Pegg plays Dennis, a directionless loser who decides to turn his life around by running a marathon to win back Libby (Thandie Newton), the girl he jilted at the altar. “Hot Fuzz” fans may be disappointed to see Pegg without his usual sidekick Nick Frost, but Pegg and Schwimmer have teamed up before as well, in HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and the little-seen 2006 comedy “Big Nothing.”
Opens wide.

“Shotgun Stories”
Nominated for a John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Spirit Awards, Jeff Nichols’s distinctly American debut examines two sets of half-brothers who have nothing to cling to except their pride and each other. Michael Shannon, Barlow Jacobs and Douglas Ligon play the estranged fraternity in the film produced by “Snow Angels” director and Nichols’s North Carolina School of the Arts schoolmate David Gordon Green.
Opens in limited release.

“Stop-Loss”
After garnering a wealth of critical acclaim and launching the career of Hilary Swank with her highly provocative debut, “Boys Don’t Cry,” writer/director Kimberly Pierce shocked us all a second time by performing one of Hollywood’s great disappearing acts. Nearly ten years later, she returns with a politically charged drama about families realizing the cost of the Iraq War through the perspective of a young soldier (Ryan Phillippe) who is forcibly recalled to active duty by the army at the end of his tour.
Opens wide.

“Superhero Movie”
Dimension Films, the studio that bought us the admittedly funny original “Scary Movie” and then the countless unfunny sequels that followed, proudly hoists aloft the now putrid and rotten corpse of the dead horse so that it may be beaten one more time. “Scary Movie 3” and “4” scribe Craig Mazin rises to the directing ranks for this send-up of superhero films, featuring shameless cameos from the likes of Robert Hays, Brent Spiner and Leslie Nielsen as well as the usual onslaught of dick jokes and potty humor and, one hopes, a reminder of the days when spoof films were funny.
Opens wide.

“Who’s Your Monkey”
Any movie whose IMDb plot keywords are “Dead Body / Vibrator / Monkey” must surely be worth the price of admission. Jason London and “ER”‘s Scott Grimes play childhood friends who accidentally murder a drug dealer while attempting to free his homemade zoo of animals, which have been exploited for amateur porn. Apparently, they appreciate that sort of thing in Florida and at CineVegas, where the film won a grand jury award and an audience award, respectively. Early reviews have said “it’s heartwarming.” “Seinfeld”‘s Wayne Knight and David DeLuise also star.
Opens in limited release.

“21”
Inspired by the real life events depicted in the bestselling book “Bringing Down The House,” this marriage of “Good Will Hunting” and “Ocean’s 11” sees a group of MIT math prodigies teaming up to beat the Vegas blackjack tables under the watchful eye of Kevin Spacey’s scheming professor. Australian director Robert Luketic helms this high stakes ride, which may be short on accuracy (since the real story centered around an Asian student played in the film by a very Caucasian Jim Sturgess), but long on the appeal of longshots. Just don’t assume that in real life, Sturgess is a risktaker at the table.
Opens wide.

[Photo: “Alexandra,” Cinema Guild, 2007]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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